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Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 13:38 GMT
Eccentric who became a popular hero
Tony Martin
Tony Martin faces an uncertain future
A parole board has decided that Tony Martin, convicted in April 2000 of murdering a teenager burgling his Norfolk farmhouse - a conviction later reduced to manslaughter - should serve the remainder of his sentence.

BBC News Online looks at how a tragedy became a cause celebre.

Tony Martin was an eccentric living alone in a remote and near-derelict Norfolk farmhouse called Bleak House.

A night in August 1999 changed his life irreparably, and his conviction the following April sparked a national debate on rural crime and the householder's right to defend himself from burglars.

Newspaper columnists were up in arms and much of Middle England was outraged that a victim of crime could be jailed for life.

But in October 2001 Martin's conviction was overturned by the Court of Appeal, which felt he was guilty only of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility.

He was sentenced to five years in jail.

As far as the British public were concerned the story began on 20 August 1999 when Martin fired at 16-year-old Fred Barras and an accomplice.

Culmination

For Martin that was not the beginning of the story but the culmination of years of being plagued by crime.

His home in Emneth Hungate had been burgled several times before and he had built up a siege mentality.

A man's home - or in our case his caravan - is his castle and I was on Tony Martin's side, as were 98% of the gypsy community

Hughie Smith
President, Gypsy Council

Three months before the shooting, crooks broke into the house and took 6,000 worth of furniture.

Because of the farm's remoteness police were almost powerless to protect it and Martin had little faith in the law.

Martin's increasingly eccentric behaviour included sleeping with his clothes and boots on and living in near-darkness and squalor.

Easy target

Barras, together with two other men, chose Bleak House as an easy target. It was so ramshackle they were convinced it must be empty.

Barras, despite his age, had already amassed 29 convictions and was an experienced burglar.

As he and an accomplice rummaged around for something worth stealing they woke Martin, who descended the stairs with an unlicensed pump-action shotgun in his hands.

The pair scrambled to get out of the window they had come in.

Barras was blasted in the back and died within seconds.

Fred Barras
Fred Barras: Died at the scene
The other man managed to get further but was shot in the legs.

He survived and was treated in hospital.

The third man, who had been waiting in a getaway car, drove off.

When it came to his trial, Martin's lawyers maintained he had acted in self-defence, and did not challenge evidence that he was downstairs when the pair broke in.

The jury decided he had overstepped the boundaries of self-defence and found him guilty of murder.

But at his appeal his new barrister, Michael Wolkind QC, said Martin had always maintained he was upstairs in bed when he heard the intruders.

Paranoid personality disorder

He eschewed the self-defence argument and instead provided evidence that Martin had been suffering from a paranoid personality disorder which diminished his responsibility at the time of the killing.

Mr Wolkind told the appeal court Martin had suffered sexual abuse as a child and "considered himself a boy of about ten".

A consultant forensic psychiatrist testified that Martin would have perceived a much greater danger to his physical safety than the average person.

In October 2001 the Court of Appeal ruled in his favour.

Lord Woolf, sitting with Mr Justice Wright and Mr Justice Grigson, said: "Martin used a firearm which he knew he was not entitled to have in a manner which was wholly unjustified.

'No excuse'

"There can be no excuse for this, though we treat his responsibility as being reduced."

Martin is now likely to remain in jail until July, when he will have served two-thirds of the sentence, but his future is shrouded in uncertainty.

Martin used a firearm which he knew he was not entitled to have in a manner which was wholly unjustified

Lord Woolf
Court of Appeal judge

Friends say that upon his release Martin would like to go abroad for a while to avoid being "hounded" by the press.

Barras was a member of the travelling community and some newspapers have reported that other gypsies were planning on "avenging" him.

But Hughie Smith, president of the Gypsy Council, which represents 55,000 travellers in Britain and Ireland, said talk of revenge was "rubbish".

He said: "As far as I'm concerned a man's home - or in our case his caravan - is his castle and I was on Tony Martin's side, as were 98% of the gypsy community.

"If anybody tried to get into my caravan I would probably have done the same thing."

See also:

16 Jan 03 | England
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